By AMY TAXIN, Associated Press
SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — Immigration officials have offered to shelve 7.5 percent of deportation cases under a massive review of the backlogged U.S. immigration court system aimed at focusing on deporting more criminals, authorities said on Tuesday.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement has agreed to temporarily suspend deporting roughly 16,500 people after reviewing more than 70 percent of the immigration cases pending as of mid-April, according to statistics released by the agency.
ICE officials said 2,700 cases have been shelved. The rest still require paperwork and background checks.
It was not immediately clear how many immigrants had accepted the offer.
The Obama administration announced in August that roughly 300,000 deportation cases would be reviewed and non-criminals and those illegal immigrants who posed no public safety or national security threat would likely have their cases put on hold indefinitely.
The move was welcomed by immigrant advocates but reviled by critics who called the program an attempt by the administration to work around Congress.
Since then, however, immigrant advocates have complained the government is offering to apply so-called prosecutorial discretion in too few instances, and that those whose deportation cases are put on the back burner still don't get a work permit. Some say immigrants might do better by trying their luck in immigration court, where, for example, they could seek asylum.
ICE deputy press secretary Gillian Christensen said the review is ongoing. The main focus is to enable authorities to focus on deporting illegal immigrants with criminal records or those who previously ignored orders to leave the country.
"This review is designed to allow the agency to make the best use of its limited resources," she said in a statement.